BOOK A STREET ARTIST MAGAZINE ISSUE 6 / JUNE 2015
BOOK A STREET ARTIST MAGAZINE ISSUE 6 / JUNE 2015 EDITORS IN CHIEF Guille Lasarte & Charlotte Specht firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com ART DIRECTOR Guille Lasarte MARKETING DIRECTOR Mario Rueda firstname.lastname@example.org CONTRIBUTORS Breana Bonner, Matthew LaPlante, Jeffrey Dahdah, Kirsti Anna Urpa, Penelope Gazin, Dan Witz, Peter Joseph, Sebastian Tost, TAPE OVER (LaMia & ‹‹just rob››), Scott Rothstein, Xuan Alyfe, Duda Carvalho, JOS*, Edite Amorim, Silvia T., DRAW, Janielle Williams, Sophie Zoe, Rolf Fassbind Alejandro Tobón Álvarez, Crisp, Gris One SPECIAL THANKS TO João Janes www.pantamagazine.com email@example.com FOUNDERS OF BOOK A STREET ARTIST Charlotte Specht Mario Rueda www.bookastreetartist.com
Cover illustration by Penelope Gazin Photo on inside front cover by Dan Witz
LETTER FROM THE EDITORS This sixth issue of PANTA has impressively shown us how artists in the most different corners of the world continuously fight for the time and space they need to accomplish their work. We want to share stories of artists who have overcome obstacles, who have broken the rules and who have fought back restrictions and repression of their freedom of speech and self-expression in order to make their art. We can see how the state of mind that gave birth to the first generation of street artists has bred a persistent crowd of activists for a better art world. There is no time to wait for change, the message we hear is loud and clear: pursue your ideas as crazy and surreal as they may seem to some, fuck bureaucracy, claim the time and space you need to execute your work and make yourself heard. We thank all artists who raise their voice and who chose PANTA as one of the channels to speak up. Thanks for reading!
ISSUE 6 / CONTENTS
Cambodia meets street art Text by Breana Bonner Photos by Matthew LaPlante, Jeffrey Dahdah & Breana Bonner
n the second floor of a building in the center of the revived town of Beoung Kak, Ludi Labille sat hunched over in a wooden chair, her eyes frantic with excitement. Her arms and legs pulsed up and down as she spoke. “I see art coming back,” Labille says. Not the traditional fine art Cambodians are accustomed to. Not the stone-carved murals that decorate the temples of Angkor Wat. Not the 18x24 canvas paintings young Cambodians are learning about in school. Labille sees something new. It is sprawled across the back of the very building she is sitting in as she speaks. It crawls over itself along an alley leading to Beoung Kak. It’s hidden in abandoned urban quarters destined for demolition. It’s patent on fences and buildings leading to Cambodia’s most precious and famous sites. On March 14th of this year, it was on full display for visitors to experience at a first-of-its-kind street art festival. With the support and encouragement of Labille and other artists, residents have revitalized their community as a center of street art and contemporary culture in Cambodia’s ever-growing capital. For Labille, the spring festival was an attempt to introduce a relatively foreign art form to the longsequestered Khmer culture. Doing so means exposing young Cambodians not just to street art, but to street artists – which is why, as she spoke, the Colombian street artist Stinkfish balanced precariously on a ladder on a rickety fire escape behind the building, giving life to his latest mural: a child reaching out to take the hand of an adult. “These kids meet the bigger artists, see what they can do and they want to learn,” says Labille.
Outside watching Stinkfish paint was Dara Pong, a young aspiring street artist who goes by the name Keven. He looked up at the established artist with admiration, watching him spray colored embellishments on the almost-finished product. “This art has never happened in Cambodia,” Pong says. “I try to do something with Khmer style. We have our own ideas for drawing on walls but we don’t have high quality spray. A young Khmer should learn to spray with high quality.” Across town, a fitness center displays a collaboration piece done by Theo Vallier. He looked proudly at his interpretation of Rahu – or, as Vallier calls it, the “moon eater.” Vallier, a French native, is passionate about teaching young Khmers quality street art. To accomplish this, he has spent eight years adding a Khmer flair to his art and motivating young artists to pursue the path. Vallier wants to show the younger generation what he can do but it’s difficult to make skeptics understand, he says. “The new generation wants something fun and funky. They don’t want to follow their parents. Art for them is something you buy and put in your house. To explain street art to their parents you would have to start from the beginning.” Vallier and another French graffiti artist, Chifumi, have been looking to “give art to the culture” since they moved to Cambodia. They have started this quest by mentoring high schoolers David Myers and Kimchean Koy, two 17-year-olds who got their exposure to street art from the Internet. Chifumi and Vallier found the young artists on Facebook while searching for fresh ideas and talent. They found it in Koy and Myers.
THE COUNTRY IS GROWING ON NEW ROOTS. AND SINCE THE YOUNG GENERATION ISN’T REALLY EDUCATED ON ART, THEY HAVE TO REBUILD IT THEMSELVES.
“They were doing something new that wasn’t typical,” says Chifumi. “In two years, they’ll be famous.” In a bustling capital city filled with people – one where much of the street art is still limited to tags – Koy and Myers stand out both for their skills and their dreams. And those dreams appear to be a fast approaching reality. Six months ago, the two high schoolers weren’t involved in street art at all; today their art is coming together and forming a style, Chifumi said. The duo has been invited to show their work in Europe later this year. However, the teens still have a lot of work to do. “Like a diamond, you have to remove the dirt first,” Chifumi says. Myers and Koy have found this sudden success “unexpected.” In Khmer culture, art isn’t considered a career choice because of family and cultural pressure, Koy says. “Survival is very valued in my culture and my parents don’t see being an artist as a way to make a living,” says Myers. All the intellectuals and artists were killed in the Khmer Rouge 36 years ago, Vallier explains. “The war destroyed a lot of the culture.” Koy explains that the tragedy influences his art, as do many Khmer artists, but he’s cautious not to over-reach. “We don’t want to make fun of it,” says Koy. “There’s nothing to celebrate. It’s horrible enough.” Vallier and Chifumi encourage young artists to involve the Khmer culture in their art, but in a modern way that interests the new generation. “The government doesn’t want something new, they just
want tradition,” Chifumi says. “They’re scared about the possible political meaning,” says Vallier. “They’re worried it will make them forget their culture.” For now, though, the Cambodian government – ruled by the Cambodian People’s Party – doesn’t seem to know what to do about street art. There are currently no zoning laws that would forbid it from blossoming anywhere in Cambodia. Artists say they hope the government will keep street art legal as its popularity grows, but they’re not too concerned either way. Most non-violent crimes – and even some violent ones – can be made to go away by putting a bit of money in the right hands. Vallier says he’s prepared for the possible repercussions “writing on the street” might have in the immediate future – and ready to wait out whatever resistance comes as street art gains popularity. The old country is growing fast, says Vallier. And change is inevitable. With around 70 percent of its population under the age of 30, Cambodia is among the youngest nations in the world. Koy hopes his art can be a balance of the new and the old culture, without the new taking over. But he recognizes this will take time. “The country is growing on new roots,” says Vallier. “And since the young generation isn’t really educated on art, they have to rebuild it themselves.” After seeing his art, Koy’s parents have been more supportive. Although it’s “highly unlikely,” the young artist says, making a living off of street art would be a dream. For now, he and Myers are enjoying their success.◆
I let the dogs out Text by Kirsti Anna Urpa Illustrations by Penelope Gazin
Penelope enjoys provoking people. She told me so, just not in those exact words. Originally from Connecticut, Penelope Helen Gazin is the creator of a fascinating collection of bizarre characters. Her illustrations often resemble pin-up models with some form of mutation. Sometimes her monster girls are based on pop icons, such as her piece entitled ‘La Barta’, which came about simply because she “wanted to see Bart (Simpson) with big boobies.” “I don’t really think about it when I’m drawing,” she casually tells me during our intercontinental video chat. “I follow my instincts.” Apparently those instincts send her off on adventures to some really strange places. In addition to freaky females and transgender-ized cartoon luminaries, Penelope sometimes voyages into the realm of science fiction. A while back she dreamed up a short story about ‘SisterShe’, a blue babe from two dimensions. She drew this scene on an imaginary planet, somewhere in a galaxy and time very different from our own.
I JUST REALLY WANNA DO WHATEVER I WANNA DO, AND I’VE FIGURED OUT A WAY TO MAKE IT SO THAT I CAN ACTUALLY DO THAT.
Penelope’s favorite series of Star Trek is the original, which she used to call the ‘captain show’. She has fond memories of watching episodes with her dad as a little girl. She was saddened after the passing of Leonard Nimoy in February and, (as any artist) she transmuted her emotions into a new piece of art. “Death is so sad when it’s not supposed to happen, but when it’s supposed to happen and they’ve lived a full life, to me that’s a beautiful thing... it’s like a beautiful part of life.” Although Penelope is often snapped flashing the Vulcan hand greeting in photos, she proclaims that she is absolutely not a nerd. “I like pop culture, I like TV shows… but I don’t obsess. I kind of purposefully don’t obsess with, like, other types of art because it takes the focus away from making my own art… I don’t want it to influence me, I want my art to be as organic as possible.” Not shy from being labelled the quintessential narcissist artist type, her main inspiration is – in her own words – Penelope. She says that she only paints herself, or some facet of her personality. “I only paint women, but I so much more enjoy painting women because that woman is always me in some capacity.” And Penelope has a lot to draw from. The multiple dimensions of her personality have generated just as many varying forms of art. Since she began dabbling in self-expression back in art school, she has created taxidermy, textile, sculpture, animation, stop motion with self-created puppets, as well as mixed media art. But these days, “I put my feelings and creativity in illustration,” because she believes it to be her strongest skill set.
Penelope also really enjoys making music and dancing. A self proclaimed croissant person, Penelope is a professionally trained ballet dancer who likes to try and see how far she can throw her legs behind her head when she’s tripping on mushrooms. When I asked her if she likes to draw on drugs, she was very adamant about the fact that she can’t draw worth a crap when she’s high – she can’t focus. “I can’t make art when I’m high” – but, the drugs “kind of, a little bit” influence her creative ideas. Her characters are sometimes spawned from thoughts she gets when she’s tripping, but mostly the only things that come out of her while she’s smashed are embarrassing twitter posts. Although, when I took a listen to her SoundCloud page, I could immediately imagine the characters from her Tumblr page dancing around in some demented hypnotic dream scene. “It’s not, like, a separate thing that I’m putting into art... it’s the same exact feeling” when she is illustrating or making music. Since she moved from Echo Park (LA) to Brooklyn (NY), she hasn’t been able to keep up with her former band Sadwich, a trio with two of
her best friends. So, now she is working on a solo project for which she often uploads new tracks. Even though she says that being “the face of a band is daunting,” she told me about an upcoming video that she shot a few months ago for her solo song, ‘I’ll Knit Your Hair Into a Sweater’. The video shoot seemed to have been made in Penelope’s particularly ghastly brand of visuals. During the filming, she was drenched in cow innards – including cow uterus, which apparently smells “worse than anything” and “makes your hands smell for days.” She even dared to bite into a freshly cut cow heart. Penelope told me that she really wishes she “had done more than two takes for the singing on this song, cause I really don’t sing on it that well. We spent way more time making the video than the song.” She describes it as a “pop song, but with really weird performance art… it really incorporates so much of what I do, it has the music, I dance... and I’m still working on the animations for it.” There isn’t a planned release date for the video yet, but I look forward to seeing what she has come up with in this new enterprise into videography.
IF YOU’RE AN ILLUSTRATOR, TRY PUTTING YOUR ART ON A PIN. IT’S REALLY SLOW AT FIRST, IT TAKES A WHILE TO BUILD A FOLLOWING, BUT THE SOONER YOU DO IT… THE LONGER TIME THERE IS FOR PEOPLE TO SHARE YOUR WORK.
One of the artist’s friends got a tattoo of one of her illustrations across his entire lower back. It portrays a girl impassively barfing onto another girl, who seems to be enjoying the situation. Penelope has a really sensitive stomach. “I dont know if that’s really the inspiration,” she told me while assuring me that she never had a problem with bulimia, even when she was training to be a ballerina. An older barfing piece got reblogged on a lot of Pro-ana websites, and when she found out she immediately deleted it because that’s not something she wants to endorse nor is that what the illustration is about at all. Regardless, her barfing pin is her best selling item on her Etsy shop. “A friend of mine said to me – oh, I just assumed you were into barfing during sex! But that’s totally not the case.” People seem to make a lot of assumptions about Penelope. She sometimes gets asked if she’s a lesbian, which she believes is a presumption based on her temperament. “I am very blunt, I have two older brothers… I don’t know if my parents ever treated me any different than my brothers… so I do think I have a lot of male personality characteristics.” She insists that she most often illustrates the female form because it’s more beautiful and inspiring. “Women’s figures are just so much more open to interpretation,” and they’re “so much more interesting than, like, muscles.” Penelope never imagined that she would become a visual artist. “The trajectory of my career was all kind of by accident. I just really wanna do whatever I wanna do, and I’ve figured out a way to make it so that I can actually do that.” And because she started an Etsy shop when she was 16, Penelope has had a pretty steady income that has allowed her to dabble in art gigs here and there – giving her the opportunity to take whichever jobs “sounded like fun.” At the time this
article was written, her shop on Etsy had already gotten an impressive 14,624 sales and 17,496 admirers. “Etsy made it so that I didn’t really have to have a day job… it’s been supporting me for a really long time. But, that’s not that impressive considering I lived off like 3k dollars in a whole year... and, at that time, I lived in a garage.” Things are getting better all the time for Penelope. At least, she isn’t living in a garage anymore. Penelope recommends that all artists “start a Tumblr and post as regularly as you can… it takes very little effort and, potentially, you can let the internet do all the work for you.” She says that to maintain the freedom she has enjoyed artistically, you should definitely “have an Etsy shop – so many people have found my art through Etsy. If you’re an illustrator, try putting your art on a pin. It’s really slow at first, it takes a while to build a following, but the sooner you do it… the longer time there is for people to share your work.” In our last few minutes together, I asked Penelope about her dead, congenital, ‘parasitic twin named alice’ that she’d said (in another interview) she had been born with. I saved this sensitive topic for last, believing that she would be reluctant to talk in detail about something so harrowing. But when I brought up the subject, Penelope just laughed in her coy, adorable little voice and told me: “there’s some interviews that I’ll just, like, lie. I like to switch it up, so it’s not just the same interview over and over. I like to keep things entertaining.” Supposedly this time around was an exception, though: “but, I’m bad at lying on the spot and to people’s faces… if you e-mail me later I’ll have time to make up something really great.” So, I guess there’s really no knowing what’s going on inside that head of hers. One thing’s clear, though: Penelope enjoys provoking people. ◆
DAN WITZ Interview by Guille Lasarte Photos by Dan Witz
From hummingbirds to mosh pits to the pursuit of creating presence in his paintings, Brooklyn-based realist painter and street artist Dan Witz does his own thing, uninterested in contemporary art trends. Perhaps he is best known for his paintings of mosh pit scenes â€“ a series that arose from a combination of his remarkable technical skills and his past in the 1970s New York punk scene. Witz is also considered one of the pioneers of the street art movement, with a career dating back three decades, before the term street art had even been coined. We were intrigued by this rebellious artist who paints like the Dutch masters, so we set out to learn more.
IN THE ART CULTURE BACK THEN THERE WAS A STRONG BIAS AGAINST ANY TYPE OF REPRESENTATIONAL SKILL IN PAINTING - A HOSTILITY IN FACT, AN US VS. THEM MENTALITY WHICH REALLY TRIGGERED ALL MY POST ADOLESCENT REBELLION ISSUES.
Tell us about yourself. Where are you from originally and why did you decide to move to NYC? I was born in Chicago in 1957 and grew up there and in the suburbs. I moved to New York City in 1978 to go to art school (Cooper Union). After a brief career in music, I settled down to making art. I currently live in Greenpoint, Brooklyn and divide my time between street art and studio works. Your technical skills are remarkable. So much so that it would’ve been like sacrilege if you had become an abstract painter or something. Tell me about art school and how your artistic style was received there at the time. Yeah, I was never what you’d call a model student in art school. And being a committed realist painter I wasn’t exactly beloved by the neo-expressionists dominating the painting department at Cooper Union in the early 80’s. In the art culture back then there was a strong bias against any type of representational skill in painting – a hostility in fact, an us vs. them mentality which really triggered all my post adolescent rebellion issues. Sometimes I wonder if my decision to remain a realist painter actually sprang from this resentment – a need to be in your face to a bunch of people I didn’t even respect. How do you think art schools (or the art establishment) differ now from when you were in art school? No idea. But I’m going to be teaching at Cooper Union next year (I know, ironic), so I guess I’ll find out. How did you get into the street art scene? (I guess the term hadn’t been coined yet – but making art on the
streets, is what I mean) Did you go at it alone or was it a collective thing? It was pretty much solo. My first street works were in the late 1970’s. At the time I didn’t know anyone else who was working that way. I’d seen earthworks and installation art but what really got me thinking were the graffiteed trains and punk rock. Your first street art project was the hummingbirds – a symbol of joy and freedom – which is something curious for a pissed off young artist who is struggling to find his place in the world to do. Why hummingbirds? I really love hummingbirds. And identify with them. Also, I was interested in the idea of beauty as sedition – how such a blatantly sweet image could be so provocative and offensive to the aesthetic ruling class of the time. As a painter, you consider yourself an academic realist. What do you think is the realist painting’s place in a world ruled by the photograph? For me realist paintings are as important as they’ve ever been – and in a large part because of photography. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been mesmerized by old master paintings. Not so much the narratives, but the presence, that brief miraculous moment of transferral to the painting’s space – that moment, so unlike in a photograph, when you’re actually there, and you suspend disbelief and surrender yourself to the world of the painting. And, technically, yes, I do consider myself an academic realist. My primary pictorial goal is to create utterly believable light, space and presence – especially presence – something that just doesn’t occur in a photograph.
BUREAUCRATIC BULLSHIT IS WHY I USUALLY END UP SAYING “FUCK IT” AND JUST GOING OUT AND DOING MY WORK MY WAY. LIFE IS TOO SHORT. MAKING ART IS HARD ENOUGH.
What role do you think street art plays in activism? Do you think street art has a responsibility, by virtue of its democratic nature, to address social/political/ environmental issues, more so than other forms of art? One of the things I love and find most enduring (and endearing) about street art is that it doesn’t have to be responsible to anyone or anything. No rules, no filter, no gatekeeper of power on high creating obstacles. That said, these days, to keep street art fresh for me, I’ve gotten involved with projects that address social issues which I care about. Back in the late 1970’s, the mere idea of an art form that wasn’t for sale and couldn’t be owned was enough of a subversive sub-text to satisfy me. But these days, with so many people doing street art, just putting something on the street isn’t as transgressive as it used to be. Activism seems like a logical development for an art form that exists on the public commons. How do you think technology has affected street art? I ask this because you’ve been involved in many street art activism campaigns, such as Wailing Walls and Empty the Cages, where technology plays a key role in the experience. Past the influence of the Internet, that great democratizing power, I think this is a question that is just beginning to be explored. When people ask me what’s next in art, I
never like to speculate (mostly because I’m almost always wrong), but I suspect some new or nascent technology is going to play a major part. The potential of all these sophisticated image delivery systems we have walking around in our pockets is just too good to pass up. Talk to me about the future of street art. Like most things that start off being rebellious, the mainstream is doing a pretty good job at appropriating and exploiting the street art movement. Do you feel that the illegal street art you do is fundamentally different from the sanctioned stuff? Yes. Sanctioned murals and street art are two different mindsets. Don’t get me wrong: I’m a big fan of the muralism that’s been happening lately and I hugely admire these artists. But it’s only peripherally related to the non-permissional type of street art that I practice. In fact I just read somewhere that it might even be insulting to call mural painters street artists: muralism has a rich and admirable lineage all on its own. One thing that I’ve learned from being around so long is not to judge other artists too readily. And this isn’t false humility or because I’m some kind of evolved person: it’s because I’ve made a lot of the same mistakes. The only thing that separates me is that I was lucky enough to be out there fucking up when no one was watching.
Tell me about your portrait series of girls staring at their phones. With those paintings I was more interested in the preternatural glow – that numinous, luminous moment of spiritual visitation. Besides being part of my ongoing fascination with light, that series explores a long time interest of mine: the secret life of everyday things (paraphrasing Giorgio De Chirico). Can you tell us about your next project(s)? A week ago I would have described an upcoming collaboration with a leading human rights organization. I was going to do a series of street art installations advocating for their Stop Torture campaign. But that just got the axe. Apparently my imagery was too dark and disturbing – some committee in an office somewhere was concerned about negative publicity – negative publicity about torture. Which I guess I have to accept. But it sucks. I’ve got a killer project all worked out and ready to go and no means to fund it. Bureaucratic bullshit like this is why I usually end up saying “fuck it”, and just going out and doing my work my way. Life is too short. Making art is hard enough. And the thought of convincing some nice well intentioned lady in London to be uncomfortable and take a risk just makes me want to retreat into my studio and lock the door. What would you say to young artists today? That crazy project you’re thinking of doing but keep rejecting because it’s too out there and ridiculous – that absurd out of left field scheme that bubbles up every few weeks but is just too weird and impractical to take seriously… that crazy motherfucking idea you always end up batting away with a, “naaah” to the back burner – what really do you have to lose? ◆
Interview by Mario Rueda Photos courtesy of Peter Joseph Collage on opposite page by Sebastian Tost In 2007, musician Peter Joseph performed a solo percussion interpretive piece in lower Manhattan that he called â€œZeitgeistâ€?, which had a 6 night run and was free to the public. At the suggestion of a friend, he uploaded the video on Google video. Within a few days, the video went viral (before the concept of viral videos was even a thing), and was viewed by millions over the next few months. This low key performance gave way to an entire movement known as The Zeitgeist Movement, a global sustainability advocacy organization. Peter was kind enough to talk to us in depth about the film series, the movement and his insights on the future of our species. What is the Zeitgeist movement and what does it hope to achieve? I suppose TZM is a few things, depending on what aspect one chooses to emphasize. On the broad scale, it is a sustainability movement. In this, we understand the importance of environmental sustainability and how it relates to social sustainability. Long story short, you cannot have social sustainability (i.e. social stability) without environmental sustainability. If we experience massive resource shortages throughout the world, we can rest assured that it will create social destabilization as a consequence. Therefore, habitat integrity precedes societal integrity.
On the other hand, TZM is a civil rights movement. While we do not embrace or promote any existing political structure as a means to an end, one could (perhaps) use the word “populist” to express the movement’s interest to help the vast majority of the world – a majority that should now rise up and realize the state of their oppression and counter the dramatic amount of unnecessary suffering and structural violence endured – all resulting from the current socioeconomic system. TZM doesn’t blame specific people, groups or “political” policy. At the root of the problem is the system of economics itself. Namely, market capitalism. However, it is worth noting that capitalism is also a symptom of a deeper sociological disorder regarding how we view the world and how we view each other. Our culture has evolved within an archaic and fearful worldview based on scarcity, with our most primitive reactions constantly ‘pinged’ or excited by the negative stress of our environment. This has manifest the capitalist model as a natural consequence and, as of now, we are in a nasty feedback loop which keeps humanity in a violent cycle of primitive reactions of fear and greed… slowly pushing everything towards collapse. So, to stop the cycle and create a more humane value system and appropriate approach to our social management, we
first need to remove the system that is reinforcing it – what is creating the destructive feedback loop. The vast majority of the world’s problems are not going to be resolved or even slowed by current “establishment” oriented attempts at change. It’s all just noise. Trivial in the long term. Only when a new, intelligent socioeconomic system is installed that relevant long-term change will commence. We title this new system a “Natural Law, Resource-Based Economy”. This worldview essentially began in the early 19th century with a man named John Etzler who is currently condemned by history as the first “Technological Utopianist”. While there are some problems with Etzler’s early, primitive vision (his main thesis was written in 1833), the basic framework of what he noticed – the intelligent use of technology; aligning with natural law forces; and the raising of humanity to a new level beyond merely working for money and the inherent slavery that it is – has been embraced by many since that time, extending the logic. This includes thinkers/institutions such as R. Buckminster Fuller, Technocracy Inc., Jacque Fresco and many others. The Zeitgeist film began as an artistic performance rather than a documentary per se. What do you think
THE VAST MAJORITY OF THE WORLD’S PROBLEMS ARE NOT GOING TO BE RESOLVED OR EVEN SLOWED BY CURRENT “ESTABLISHMENT” ORIENTED ATTEMPTS AT CHANGE. IT’S ALL JUST NOISE. TRIVIAL IN THE LONG TERM. ONLY WHEN A NEW, INTELLIGENT SOCIOECONOMIC SYSTEM IS INSTALLED THAT RELEVANT LONG-TERM CHANGE WILL COMMENCE.
is more effective in terms of creating an impact on the audience (artistic performance vs. documentary paradigm?) I’m not sure if there is a clean answer to that question. Each approach has an effect in different ways, depending on the nature of the viewer. My first film was created as an emotionally driven aesthetic piece that worked to generate critical thought in an extreme, abstract way. This work was done with heavy gesture and over-simplified statements to create a broad worldview. However, gesture aside, it is also likely the most sourced documentary in filmmaking history. I am unaware of any film that has detailed everything in such great scrutiny as I later did in the 200+ page book written to support the claims made. I state that because even 8 years later there is a vast condemnation of the piece in certain circles, with endless propaganda and derisive association – mostly based upon an uneducated and unenlightened sense of artistic expression and mixed genre style. So, I hence believe a combination of art and science, of gesture and academic rigor, is key. It is a balance. In fact, this is probably truer than ever given how saturated media has become in the modern day. The very act of getting anyone to pay attention to anything out there requires some type of aesthetic persuasion that invariably must be somewhat entertaining rather than coldly intellectual. That is my view, at least. Do you think that being able to participate in activism is a luxury, to a certain extent? For example, if I have to struggle to work a mindless job 10 hours a day just to feed my family of 6, do I have the same opportunity to take an interest in changing the system as someone with more time and resources? Or is it a ‘with privilege comes responsibility’ kind of thing? A natural consequence of the economic structure and
resulting incentive system is that people become locked into a feedback loop of narrow self-interest. People are not trained by the very nature of this society to care about anyone else but themselves and their “tribe”, and the pressures – the structural coercion – that are built into the system reinforces that need for apathy and hence the disregard of one’s external surroundings. This relates to both people and the habitat, in fact. So, in that respect, for people to really care about the well-being of others or to pay attention to what is really happening in the political sphere – one has to be able to distract themselves from their general survival for a moment. This is easier said than done. While, of course, we all realize that our existences relate to the systems around us – such as the political and economic system – it is still extremely difficult to have time given all of the survival pressures to actually do anything about what is going on. And, sadly enough, most of the little things people do who think they are doing something… are actually pointless in the long run as, once again, they do not address the system problem. I would also say that people have been bought off in this society, even if poor. One of the negative benefits of technological development in the current material culture is the vanity and bizarre fetishes that have been created surrounding superficial devices/gadgetry. The thought of people losing access to these fetishes keeps them more in line with establishment values, just like how the rich would obviously rather keep their great wealth. Needless to say, to ‘rock the boat’ puts in danger one’s stability. The feedback loop continues. However, to answer your question “with privilege comes responsibility”, I suppose I agree in theory but at the same time most who achieve a state of true financial privilege have usually been indoctrinated into being satisfied by the system since the system has accommodated them.
Coupled with the inherent narcissism and self-interest that the system compounds, again “pinging” primal human fears and generating greed – more often than not, those who do reach a state of “privilege” tend to be even more fearful of rocking the boat. Rather, they pretend. They start trusts and become “philanthropists” – which is probably the most offensive word in culture today, if you think about how it is used. So, back to my original point: there are system pressures on many levels that deter people from challenging the status quo. I would state that the most common deterrent is the general destitution and stress perpetuated by the social structure itself that restricts one’s capacity to even pay attention to anything outside of one’s personal survival. It is too inconvenient and risky. I will add that education is also a huge factor. Just like in abject slave times it was illegal in some regions for slaves
despotism and exploitation to really get a true sense, just like you really cannot understand the horrors of war unless you’ve seen someone killed directly next to you in real life. In my early development, all I cared about was the art of classical and modern music. I closed myself off from reality, just like many others do and, as per my introverted character, I preferred to develop myself in a very disciplined and detached way. It wasn’t until the cold reality of having to survive as an adult did I begin to analyze the world around me. I ended up in advertising because it was the only thing my limited skill set would allow me to do, keeping some decent standard of living. I moved to equity trading because it is the only occupation in existence with no boss and no employees. I wanted out of the corporate hierarchy. So, I see myself as having been pushed along the rails of the natural, structural coercion that is the socioeconomic complex. Coincidentally and
VERY SOON IN THE FUTURE, DUE TO THE ADVANCEMENT OF TECHNOLOGY, A MODERN CITY WILL BE ABLE TO GROW ALL OF ITS OWN FOOD AND ESSENTIALLY DO ALL OF ITS OWN PRODUCTION FOR THE ENTIRE POPULATION WITHOUT EVER NEEDING TO IMPORT ANYTHING BUT PERHAPS SOME RAW MATERIALS.
to be literate, there is a natural propensity to avoid quality education for the masses because there is no advantage to freethinking individuals when the overarching aspect of the socioeconomic system is self-preservation and not progress. It’s kind of ironic that you started out working in advertising and independent equity trading (or maybe it’s exactly as it should have been). Did you always have an ideological stance against the system, but kind of went along to survive, or was it precisely these professions that led you to dedicate your life to activism? While my critics seem confused by such associations, I would defend them as revealing how close I have been to the worst aspects of the social structure and how that has affected me. You have to be very close to such structural
virtually by accident (it seems), this path led me to where I am today. Talk to me about the power of filmmaking. Do you consider filmmaking the most effective medium to incite social change? Well, shocking to many as it might be, I don’t particularly like the art of filmmaking compared to other art forms. I will not go on a tangent about that. I will state that within the spectrum of multimedia production, the film tradition has a tremendously large influence on culture today. When you see, say, the Academy Awards and all these huge directors and famous actors sitting in a single room, you are really seeing the most influential people on the planet. When it comes to people’s values, these people have more power than the political establishment and the religious establishment.
Z IT IS UNFORTUNATE THAT THE ARTS AND THE SCIENCES APPEAR DETACHED.
So, realizing this, and also thinking back on the bizarre success of my first film/performance piece Zeitgeist, I engage this art form with a kind of strategy to, again, play both sides – the art and the science of communication and expression. So, to answer your question, I think it is a very effective medium but filmmaking is really comprised of multiple mediums. I would still suggest music has a longer-term, stronger power in some value shifting ways – but music also presents more ambiguity.
Are there any particular artists that you admire? Perhaps the greatest intellectual and artistic influence I have had, more from the standpoint of theory, was a man named Iannis Xenakis. He was a 20th century composer that dealt with various abstract ideas regarding aesthetics and how to represent intellectual systems with sound and form. John Cage was another important influence in the way he broke the separations of music and everyday life. As far as film, I’m not really much of a film buff. I create my films from an intuitive standpoint with very little reference to anything that I’ve seen. Honestly, I create films from a musical standpoint. Music and the aural quality of the film comes first in style and form. My new film trilogy, “InterReflections”, will be a vast exploration of this personal style. Musical phrasing is superior to filmic phrasing and I apply it as such. Do you truly think, in the bottom of your heart, that humans are capable of transitioning to this postscarcity society that you are proposing? If so, how come we haven’t already? Not only am I convinced that the very foundation of our human nature is primed for this type of society given the incredible public health revelations regarding how negative
the current model is to our physical and psychological well-being – I believe once a small version of this type of world is created and shown, people will flock to it at an exponential rate. Why? Firstly, because 99% of the world’s population is being screwed. It isn’t just a well-being issue – it is a dignity and pride issue at this stage. Principle. Our social nature doesn’t like to get jerked around. We have an inherent sense of justice, just as our primate ancestors have proven in various anthropological studies. Sadly, most do not even understand how badly they are getting screwed and how the system is literally killing them slowly by its structural violence – not to mention the insane wealth inequality that is another level of an emerging public health crisis. However, the main challenge is getting people to realize that the alternative is real and can be done. The reason we have not been able to make this change is because the pressures of the current structure are so severe. This change is a complete shift of everything in the social order. Therefore, my estimation is that some country will begin the transition. The fruits of this country are shown to the world and then I believe there will be a chain reaction. The Empire will fight it – but all empires fail eventually. The main great catalyst will be the emerging trend towards localization of all production. With the advent of 3D printing, zero marginal cost and nanotechnology, coupled with the ability to automate labor, we are seeing a massive economic transformation. Capital goods are becoming consumer goods, while labor power is being built into consumer goods/capital goods through automation. In other words, very soon in the future, due to the advancement of technology, a modern city will be able to grow all of its own food and essentially do all of its own production for the entire population without ever needing to import anything but perhaps some raw materials.
THE REALITY IS THAT OUR EVERYDAY VIEWING OF THE WORLD AND THE VERY PROCESS OF THE WAY WE CHANGE, INVENT AND EMBRACE OUR INHERENT HUMAN INGENUITY – IS FIRST ARTISTIC.
Over time, due to the ability of emerging nanotechnology, the importing of raw materials will also be greatly slowed if not eliminated as a necessity. In the end, you will have almost pure localization and hence decentralization. Once this happens the structural pressure to maintain associations in globalization – which is and always has been the new colonialism – will come to an end. By the way, I’m not saying detachment is economically ideal – I’m saying it is a transitional step. As we approach 2030/2040, which will be virtually apocalyptic based on the negative trends at hand assuming no changes – this will also be the same time that we will be able to break free and societies will be able to work on their own without having to submit to larger order governmental or transnational interests (as the march of exponential technology growth continues to improve). This isn’t to say the world no longer works together – it would have to in the end as it would be most optimized for efficient economic calculation/resource management – but normal everyday living would not have a heavy reliance on such global interaction. As the old saying goes “think globally, act locally.” TZM’s ultimate mission is the installation of a new socio‐economic model based upon technically responsible resource management, allocation and design through what would be considered the scientific method of reasoning problems and finding optimized solutions. What’s the role of artists in this rather technical approach? It is unfortunate that the arts and the sciences appear detached. The reality is that our everyday viewing of the world and the very process of the way we change, invent and embrace our inherent human ingenuity – is first artistic. Science doesn’t have any real novel leads.
Science is a verification/analysis process mostly and this explains why so many scientific breakthroughs are achieved by accident. One could argue that humans can’t actually invent anything – we can only deductively analyze phenomenon around us as we perform different experiments, seeking a lucky combo. Therefore, we have to have a creative expectation. We have to have a hypothesis and a hypothesis is invariably a creative deduction or inference – an experiment. So, there is no purely “technical approach” as the arts and the sciences are part of the same system – of creative ingenuity and problem solving. As far as pop culture art, as per the more traditional definition of “art”, I could only expect it to flourish in a way unimaginable. First, the polluting monetary influence is gone. No more contrived artists looking to manipulate prior trends to sell something. This means the artist will be much more pure in his/her intentions from the start. There would be no real reason to create anything unless you loved doing it. Money pollutes everything. Second, the stress relief coming from the basic nature of the new social system and the free-time realized would set the stage for an explosion of human creativity on all levels. Just imagine all the wasted minds working at fast food restaurants today that might have a propensity for great contribution in our ‘Group Mind’ societal-creative apparatus… but have never been given a chance to realize it or participate. Millions if not billions of lost minds are toiling in market BS roles trying to just live, polluted by modern culture. Anyway, creative thinking and the act of creation itself would be the new norm of human consciousness, I think. It would be profound. ◆
Text & Photos by TAPE OVER www.tapeover.berlin
FUNDAMENTALLY, WE LOVE TO EXPERIMENT. A NEW CREATION IS BASED ON PASSION AND CREATIVITY. THIS IS OUR UNDERSTANDING OF ART AND THIS IS WHAT MAKES US TICK.
We began this project that we called TAPE OVER in the spring of 2011 in Berlin. We live here, we work here, we love here. TAPE OVER emerged when we started implementing our work in the city’s vibrant sub-cultural electro club scene. These places not only allow us to artistically express who we are but also what we stand for. We always have and always will consider these places our creative playgrounds. Everything that makes us who we are is reflected in our work. We’re versatile, we’re individual and pay attention to fine detail. Our style can be adapted to whatever suits the vibe, from urban art to commercial identity. In addition, our art reflects what inspires us the most – organic forms, abstract shapes, plain design and bold visual statements. Staying true to our crew mentality, we enjoy collaborating with other artists of different disciplines, be it object and installation artists, musicians, visual artists and various other creative visionaries. The fruits of these collaborations have given way to projects such as TAPE MAPPING, a technique that combines tape art and video mapping, giving way to a unique viewer experience. It’s a fusion of analogue and digital art that takes the form of either a live performance or a recorded show. Another project that has arisen from our collaboration is TAPE ON YOU – tailor-made body and fashion styling with tape. It’s a spontaneous interactive creation process in which we use tape to create individual appearances that match the vibe and style of each person. To be precise, it’s tape art designed directly onto people’s skin or clothes. This project has evolved through styling for events, press photos and fashion shoots. Fundamentally, we love to experiment. A new creation is based on passion and creativity – this is our understanding of art and this is what makes us tick. ◆
XUAN ALYFE Text by Scott Rothstein Photos courtesy of Xuan Alyfe
Xuan Alyfeâ€™s painted walls read like visual poetry. Gracefully rendered pictures appear on the surfaces he creates, enhanced by a sophisticated use of color. Abstract and figurative elements coexist, exposing intimate and unexpected visual moments. The scale of his figures and the shapes painted are grounded only by Alyfeâ€™s imagination. His works are compelling, with dreamlike compositions.
STARING EYES ON A FACE OF MODULATED COLORS, TREES AND SMALL FIGURES BALANCE EFFORTLESSLY WITH ABSTRACT ELEMENTS.
Based in Aviles, Spain, Alyfe studied at the Fine Arts University in Salamanca. Although academically educated, Alyfe’s art seems to be directed more by intuition than formal training. His work reveals an artist who is intelligent and informed. Alyfe has an intensely personal aesthetic that combines bold geometry, washes and gradated color, figurative renderings and energetic lines that reflect his interest in calligraphy. His wall paintings are complex and nuanced, striking when seen at a distance, yet engaging when closely viewed. There is a generosity in his art, a sense that Alyfe is sharing in public his most intimate self. On his walls, emotions are exposed, and a cerebral journey is offered. Multiple paintings within paintings are found in each work; every segment could compositionally stand on its own. It is easy to get lost in the details. Alyfe has been invited to create artworks in several counties. His commissioned pieces are more densely detailed than his work on found walls. Yet all his art is equally impressive. For the Living Walls project In Atlanta, Georgia, Alyfe was asked to transform one side of an abandoned house. Alyfe’s artistic orientation can be clearly seen in this work. He incorporates the building’s pitched roofline into the composition of his painting. This wall is complex, bringing together several diverse visual parts. This Living Walls project reads as an unconventional grouping of paintings, each with is own sense of proportion and scale. Figurative renderings coexist with the abstract; one large section is reminiscent of calligraphy. Staring eyes on a face of modulated colors, trees and small figures balance effortlessly with abstract elements. Everything seen is perfectly calibrated, bringing to light an energetic, coherent composition.
Arte Urbana Lugano in Switzerland gave Alyfe a different kind of opportunity. In Atlanta, the challenge was to bring color and hope to a part of the city that is struggling. This is often the case when artists are invited to paint walls in urban settings. The Lugano project demonstrates the possibilities murals can bring to contemporary architecture. His tightly considered painting enhances the environment and establishes an exciting outdoor gallery. This work makes a strong case for the inclusion of wall art in diverse settings. When he is painting a wall without permission, Alyfe must maneuver quickly. These works are in keeping with his commissioned walls, but feel more spontaneous. He achieves, under pressure, images that are focused, detailed and lyrical. Working over single ground color that is either solid or gradated, he expresses his imagination. Alyfe extensively documents his art online using a blog format. In many of the postings a person is posed in relationship to one of his painted walls, suggesting a performance piece. In other photographs, people are manipulated as visual elements. It is as if Alyfe has taken pieces from his walls and given them form. Xuan Alyfe is primarily known for his street art, but on viewing his website, it becomes clear his creative impulses are limitless. Juxtaposing a sophisticated visual lexicon with exceptional dexterity, Alyfe reveals himself to be an artist who transcends expectations, form, or medium. â—† www.xuanalyfe.com
DESERTO Photography by Duda Carvalho
Duda Carvalho (born 1968 in Brazil) is a photographer based in Rio de Janeiro. Duda studied Visual Communications at the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio. Since the late 90s, he works as a fashion photographer and visual artist and has participated in a number of exhibitions. His work has won multiple awards, such as NUDES#3 from Graphis (USA), Hasselblad Master Award, AGFA & Photographies Magazine Prix (France), and has appeared in international publications such as SANTA Art Magazine (Brazil), Outdoor Photography Magazine (UK) and the Resolution Exhibition at the New York Photo Festival 2014. www.dudacarvalho.net
THE PSYCHEDELIC CHEF
Tapa del Cocodrilo Miguelito Recipe & Photo by JOS* THE STORY GOES LIKE THIS So this is what happens when you swim into the beluga’s territory… Green colors on the distance that give the shape of a not-so-friendly beast, but we don’t care, we say fuck you! We will eat you this time. Dreams that bring you yellow shapes and red sparkles of spicy and sweet flavors that melt and excite your mind. Chopped up white flesh that jumps around when it’s resting in a hot golden-colored lagoon. Ideas of flavors to put together this magic dish were coming together from paint, party, dreams, cartoons... I was tripping in my sleep tasting spicy sugar turning into caramel. Then I woke up with that taste in my mouth and thought to create this recipe. It’s simple, just a little Mexican tapa made of crocodile, orange, mezcal and spices. The idea also came from a mural I painted with my favorite people… Cecilia Beaven and Diego Loza. We were just thinking to paint crocodiles and then we said, what if we also set up a party and cook some tapas? So, drinks, new mural, friends and a new recipe to try. Everything turned out really well, people loved the mural and also the food!
INGREDIENTS 1 kg of crocodile meat 3 oranges ½ onion 3 cloves of garlic 20 sopes (or small corn tortillas) 500 mL of mezcal Salt White pepper Olive oil 400 g sugar 150 g chili pepper powder 150 g butter
TO PREPARE THE MARINADE Chopped onions Chopped garlic The zest of half the orange The juice of the 3 oranges Salt and white pepper (to taste) 500 mL of mezcal 6 tbsp of olive oil
PREPARATION Now that you have the marinade, chop the crocodile meat into small cubes, like 1x1cm. Add it to the marinade and let it rest for the night in the fridge. Preheat a pan, put the sugar to melt to the point of caramel with the chili pepper. When you get the liquid texture, add the butter and put it on the side. Take the meat out of the marinade and sear it in a frying pan with olive oil until cooked. Put the marinade in a casserole to reduce. When you get the sauce texture, liquefy it. You can use the oil where you seared the meat to add texture and flavor, that will be the sauce. Now fry the sopes or tortillas. Place the cooked crocodile on top, add the marinade sauce and drizzle the spicy caramel on top to finish! Get fat, get drunk, have sex!
DRAW Interview by Edite Amorim & Silvia T. Photos courtesy of DRAW
When Frederico (DRAW) speaks, the expressions “sketch”, “outline”, “plots” and “line cutting” come up spontaneously as he enthusiastically talks about the wall he’s about to paint. His education in architecture blends with his passion for graffiti. Together, these two elements make up an artist who, besides painting murals, is also concerned about the future of the urban landscape.
The name DRAW represents a moment of transition. It was in 2011, after a Master’s in Architecture, when he decided to dedicate his life to art – particularly street art, which he had been experimenting with since 2001. With street art, DRAW is able to express his passion for drawing on a whole different level. “It’s large-scale sketching”, he says. The walls give him an openness that the sketchbook doesn’t, and they also give him a feeling of great freedom when it comes to expressing himself artistically. DRAW’s inspiration comes from images – many, many images. Images that come from the world in a variety of formats or images he finds in the city where he lives, Porto, a city full of details to take in. What mark do you leave behind on the walls you intervene on? When I paint on walls, my work is a gift. It’s a gift for the people who followed the painting process and it’s a gift to the residents of that street or neighborhood. It’s a gift for the people who truly value what I’m doing, those people that even though they don’t have much money, they still come and offer me a sandwich while I’m painting. A bond is created, a feeling of belonging and connection between the paint on those walls and the local people. The murals become a sort of visual rehab for places that had become invisible, places that were empty and abandoned. To me, street art is also a way of calling people’s attention to a certain problem that needs to be solved. The image and identity of the city are my main focus – they have been ever since I wrote my Master’s thesis. I like the idea of intervening in a city, in its empty spaces. As an architect, I am aware that painting the walls of an abandoned building is not the solution to the problem of empty urban spaces, but it is my way of creating awareness to a certain problem, of spreading consciousness.
TO ME, THE MAIN ASPECT ABOUT STREET ART IS ITS SOCIAL DIMENSION. OF COURSE I WANT MY WORK TO BE RECOGNIZED, BUT WHAT MOVES ME THE MOST ARE THE PEOPLE THAT WELCOME ME, THE RELATIONSHIPS, THE COLLABORATIONS, THE BONDING WITH OTHER ARTISTS.
What moves you? To me, the main aspect about street art is its social dimension. Of course I want my work to be recognized, but what moves me the most are the people that welcome me, the relationships, the collaborations, the bonding with other artists. That thing that connects us through art. Even though I sometimes like to paint alone, I’m always very interested in the social part of it, this link that unites us. The unexpected friendships that are born from a collective artistic creation, from a moment of sharing. What’s ahead? I don’t like to get too comfortable with what I do. Although I’ve been painting in the streets since I was 12, I want to keep evolving and exploring, especially in other countries. To continue to meet new people and to create as many murals as he can wherever he is offered a couch to sleep on. This sums up DRAW’s path, an artist who never abandons his down-to-earth attitude and his backpack of spray cans. ◆ www.bookastreetartist.com/draw
One Round Sound Text by Janielle Williams Photos by Rolf Fassbind & Sophia Zoe Once upon a time in Vienna, a crowd of festive individuals danced through the streets, following the allure of the music ahead. Instead of one man leading there were four, and in place of the flute was an acoustic guitar, a bass, a violin, and a Balkan tuba. This isn’t a modern day account of a children’s fairy tale, it’s one of the outstanding memories of past performances that the quartet known as Bukahara shared with us. On the return to Germany from a summer tour through Romania, Slovenia and Croatia, the four musicians passed through Vienna. They had been playing outdoors at a spontaneous concert one
night when they realized that the audience had grown to nearly two hundred people. Police eventually arrived and attempted to disperse the crowd. The captive audience was vocal about their discontent that the music had stopped. They demanded for the band to be allowed to continue. While this was all happening, the crowd had doubled. Although the concert was forced out of the area in the end, the party went on. Bukahara took nearly four hundred people through the streets until they reached a construction site where the band made a container their impromptu stage.
THE GROUP FOUND THAT, COMPARED TO MUSIC REVIEWS, GAUGING AUDIENCE RECEPTIVITY WHILE THEY PLAYED WAS A VALUABLE SOURCE OF FEEDBACK.
What kind of music could draw and keep an audience of that magnitude? One would find it difficult to place Bukahara’s music into any one genre, given that it has, among many other influences, elements of jazz, Balkan swing, hip-hop, and Arabic reggae. It’s all done with acoustic instruments. “We don’t need anything but ourselves and our interesting instruments. Acoustic is more intimate and direct, has a different feel,” said the band’s violinist. After gaining some insight from Bukahara as to what drives the members of the group, it seems that the performance itself plays an essential role in what engages Bukahara’s audiences. The audience responds to the
unique energy and charisma that each member of the band contributes to the overall performance. In turn, the group thrives on audience reactions while compelling them to dance. Bukahara is an eclectic group of friends making eclectic music. The name of the group itself reflects this harmonious fusion of heterogeneous elements. When asked about the origins of their group name, they clarified that Bukahara is “Just a word that sounded like it suited us.” Bukahara is an invented word that captures the uniqueness of individual parts and at the same time is representative of the whole; each member contributes a style to the songs and each musical style lends itself to the songs. Soufian contributes the oriental influences. His lyrics and voice “tell stories and reflect dreams.” Avi produces
the reggae and Klezmer sounds that “circle the hips of the audience.” Bassist Ahmed is the “life and soul of the party” and Max’s tuba “should inspire the respect of the most courageous elephant.” According to Avi, “Each gets his own culture and musical background to the band and it evolves to have this one round sound.” Round is a fitting word to describe not only sound but also the exchange between performers and audience, given that for many, circles bring to mind unity and cyclical exchange. Bukahara has been creating this atmosphere with audiences since their earliest performances. Soufian Zoghlami, Ahmed Eid, Daniel Avi Schneider, and Max von Einem first met as music students several years ago. They started out busking, but purely for enjoyment rather than income.
“Playing outside was a thing we did for fun. It’s a great way to have a party,” said violinist Avi. The band claims to have learned many lessons from busking audiences. Parks were the first place Bukahara went to test out new songs. If the audience wasn’t responding to a particular song the group was able to see it instantly, as the people would simply walk away. When the audience stayed, they knew the song was a success. The group found that, compared to music reviews, gauging audience receptivity while they played was a valuable source of feedback. The fluidity of Bukahara’s performances can also be attributed to those earlier busking concerts. At that time they learned to adapt their sets based on the audience’s reaction in order to create a lively and mutually entertaining music experience. “We learned to give a lot of energy, to be present as a band.” Despite having played in countless cities and venues, Bukahara appreciates the uniqueness of each audience.
Nonetheless, the group says that regardless of the audience, language, culture, high or low energy levels, “we put more energy to get them to move and do this thing with us.” In this sense, Bukahara says that their performances are all the same. “In the end, everybody is dancing.” Bukahara has toured internationally at hundreds of concerts and festivals. In addition to their debut album Bukahara Trio in 2011, the group has just released Strange Delight. This second album is an especially great accomplishment considering the band recorded and financed it independently. When asked about future plans for Bukahara, the group commented, “We don’t really know what’s going to happen, things are changing. We took a big step and now going to see what’s next.” Wherever Bukahara’s music goes next, it’s safe to say that audiences will follow. ◆
BOGOTA: a mecca for street art Text by Alejandro Tobón Álvarez Photos by Alejandro Tobón Álvarez, Crisp & Gris One
Colombia is a dynamic and complex country. Culturally and (environmentally) diverse, Colombia is also one of the most unequal and violent nations in the world. There has been an armed conflict within its territory affecting its population – especially in rural areas – for decades. In the streets and murals of its capital, Bogotá, you can hear the echo of the war that unfolds in this land. Bogotá does not have a good reputation. Its name is often related – sometimes with good reason – to the ‘reality’ portrayed by the media and exaggerated by Hollywood. Violence, along with inequality, drug trafficking, armed groups and state corruption, permeates and conditions Bogotá’s society. Graffiti and tags have become a means for liberation, an outlet for escaping the discontent and dissatisfaction felt by its inhabitants. The city is flooded with these visual expressions of social demands and thousands of anonymous signatures. This phenomenon, tagged “guerrilla painting” by Cuban writer Jorge Enrique Lage, was opposed and fought against until not too long ago. As in other cities, the police was constantly chasing graffiti artists, deemed delinquents by the state. Punishment by law enforcement
officials was severe and often violent in order to repress the paintings that frequently criticized the state. “Before,” says Toxicómano, a local street artist, “whoever was caught painting would get their spray cans emptied on their shoes, face and hair. And they would get beaten up.” Many young artists spent nights in the confines of cold police stations, where they were mistreated. The police and some members of the army would paint over the street art with gray paint. Beyond the official repression, some groups linked to far right-wing paramilitaries intimidated these graffiti artists. “There was the risk of coming across a police car, but if you saw a black armored truck… that was really scary. With these guys, you didn’t know if they were gonna beat you up or if they were gonna kill you. That was the real graffiti monster.” These groups were dedicated to the so-called social cleansing aimed at street artists, prostitutes, gays and minorities in general. But these risks, latent and disastrous, didn’t prevent the creation of “an amazing cloud of tags rising into the Andean mountains, building up and mixing dreams, delirium and the nightmares of thousands of anxious young people”.
On August 19th, 2011, Diego Felipe Becerra went out spray tagging with some friends under a large bridge in the west side of the city. A policeman, in an act of excessive violence and impatience to enforce the law, shot the 16-year-old in the back. The officers tried to justify the unwarranted act by accusing the young man of assaulting a bus, but the victim’s parents quickly came to their son’s defense and used the media to report the abuse of authority and demand justice. The case generated a series of reflections and exposed a problem that until now the bogotanos had ignored. Toxicómano explains that, “In this country, until someone rich dies, things don’t change. Someone always has to die for people to pay attention. Today that guy is like a martyr.” Months after the assassination of Becerra, Justin Bieber – idol of millions of teenagers around the world – came to
Bogotá to give a concert. During his brief stay in the city, the Canadian singer went out and, escorted by private security and the police, painted a mural on Avenida 26, one of the most emblematic and busiest avenues in the city. The voices of protest soon started condemning the shameless incoherence of public security forces. It was at this point that the police permanently lost its moral authority to chase graffiti artists. It was at this point that the Pandora box of Bogotá’s street art opened. These two events were the catalyst that allowed an entire group of young people that were hiding to go out and take over the streets with their painting. Fear and night-painting ceased to be basic elements of street art in Bogotá. From then on, street artists were free to make larger, more complex and more ambitious works without risking their lives.
THE ILLEGALITY IS COMPLETELY COUNTERPRODUCTIVE AND THIS IS PRECISELY WHAT NARROW-MINDED GOVERNMENTS DONâ€™T REALIZE. UNDER HEAVY REGULATION, FAST GRAFFITI IS WHAT PROLIFERATES.
In this regard, DjLu, a local street artist, says that, “the illegality is completely counterproductive, and this is precisely what narrow-minded governments don’t realize. Under heavy regulation, fast graffiti is what proliferates, which is less elaborated graffiti. This will not stop, that’s a fact. More and more people are doing it and by banning it, what you’ll get is more tags, throw-ups and fast writing. And, of course, less murals”. Gris One, one of the most talented street artists in the Bogotá scene, says that he’s very pleased with the police’s increasing tolerance and respect for graffiti artists. By feeling calm and relaxed when painting, the artist can concentrate more on his work, pay more attention to detail and be more selective with colors. Although what made him fall in love with graffiti in the first place was the darkness, the danger and the adrenaline generated by breaking the rules, the new legality of it has allowed him to experiment with new techniques and to offer innovative and highly technical artistic pieces to Bogotá’s inhabitants. “Graffiti,” says the artist, “is only yours while you’re painting, but once you finish it, goodbye. It becomes part of the street”. This urban art, by belonging to no one, belongs to everyone. To Crisp, an Australian street artist who has lived in Bogotá for more than six years, says that, “Bogota is like an openair museum and to persecute street art would just ruin everything. It’s like the war on drugs. You can’t stop it. The more severe the penalties are, the more damages you are going to do to the city”. According to the artist, one of the major problems caused by the oppression of street art is the multiplication of youth criminal records, youth that is then stigmatized, marginalized and ultimately discriminated against. Crisp reminds us that in the end, “artists are not criminals and painting on walls is not hurting anyone”. DjLu goes further by stating that being open to graffiti generates a number of benefits for the city that aren’t obvious at first glance. “It’s estimated that there are 20,000 people painting on the street. It’s estimated that the city gets around 7000 million pesos [around 3 million dollars] in taxes from the sales of paint. Not only is street art good because it generates income, but also because the city is becoming known for something. Graffiti makes the city an interesting place for photographing and video making. People will start walking more and enjoying the city”.
Although Bogotá is perceived as an unsafe metropolis, street art may be impoving this perception for many of its inhabitants. “Some people see the renovated spaces as safer, more bright. People will want to take care more of public space,” says DjLu. Toxicómano believes that, “a few years ago, people related graffiti with gangs and vandalism and avoided walking by places with tagged walls. Now a street full of graffiti means it will generate traffic of people, especially young people.” It’s a fact that citizens have generally begun to change their perception of street art. This is largely due to a number of reasons that reinforce each other. Thanks to the clear technical and conceptual improvement of the art that is now seen on the streets, people are starting to enjoy a more colorful city. Meanwhile, the media has given a voice to street artists and their work is becoming more visible. Interest
useful for these artists to spread their work worldwide, to learn and replicate new techniques while improving their own, to be contacted for collaborations and even to travel and welcome foreign artists in their homes. Today, the Colombian capital lives a very positive reality when it comes to street art. The municipality has launched campaigns to finance large murals, thereby formalizing a practice that was previously not tolerated. The mayor Gustavo Petro has understood that quality street art is an added value for the city, “especially for Bogotá, where traffic is so bad, you want some good things to look at while you’re stuck in your car, in a cab or on a bus. You just don’t want to be looking at some gray walls,” says Crisp. Also, “many foreign journalists and media have now taken a new interest in Bogotá,” says DjLu. In recent years, there have been many constructions
GRAFFITI IS POLISHING UP THESE IMPERFECTIONS THAT ARE SO CHARACTERISTIC OF A DYNAMIC CITY THAT’S IN CONSTANT EXPANSION, GIVING IT A NEW IDENTITY THAT’S RELATED TO ART AND NOT TO VIOLENCE AND DRUG TRAFFICKING.
in street art has been growing elsewhere, especially in Europe, where art galleries have embraced this form of artistic expression. Even a group of foreign graffiti artists created Bogotá’s Graffiti and Street Art Tour, which explains the history of graffiti in Bogotá and unveils some of the city's best street art. “With knowledge,” says DjLu, “comes tolerance. When people see street art in newspapers and magazines, when they learn that there are a lot of gringos who come to see this shit, then they start to change their opinion. That’s how people are.” Technological advancement has also helped propel street art. Thanks to digital cameras and Photoshop, Toxicómano has reinvented his artistic approach by perfecting his stencil technique, which has turned him into one of the most famous examples of the scene in Bogotá. Internet and social networks in particular are
related to the TransMilenio – the main rapid public transport system of Colombia. These works require, in many cases, the extension of public space, causing partial demolitions of some surrounding buildings. This phenomenon has generated countless divisions that become like scars across the city. “These physical gaps and residual spaces, which are not taken into account by the city, are great for working,” says DjLu. Graffiti is polishing up these imperfections that are so characteristic of a dynamic city that’s in constant expansion, giving it a new identity that’s related to art and not to violence and drug trafficking. Thanks to the standardization of graffiti, police officers are prompted to focus their efforts on fighting crime and delinquency. Street artists can now make their art without risking their lives.
Their works are a gift to the city, for those living on the streets and those who enjoy dwelling in a city full of colors, shapes and ideas. They are also an alternative to advertising images, which have so far reigned the cityscape. A Dutch tourist called Bogotá the Disneyland for street artists. But the continuation of this paradise of street art, of this Mecca that the city has become, is far from assured. In October, new mayoral elections will be held and there is a list of conservative candidates who would be capable of declaring war on street art. One of the candidates likely to win is Rafael Pardo, who was temporary mayor of Bogotá last year. In his short mandate, which barely lasted a month, Pardo ordered to “clean” the streets of graffiti, painting over several murals in immaculate white. The reaction from the graffiti community was immediate and within 24 hours those white walls were sprayed. Whatever the future of graffiti in Bogotá is, what’s certain is that this community will not stop expressing itself through art. The only thing that may vary is the quality of the work. Hopefully, street art will not be prohibited again for the sake of the city, for its aesthetics, but above all, for the life of its inhabitants. In a country plagued by violence, it is unacceptable that cases like that of Diego Felipe Becerra, one of the martyrs of graffiti in Bogotá, happen again. ◆
PANTA - Book a Street Artist Magazine - Issue 6 / June 2015